How to keep your income property from taking over your life

How to keep your income property from taking over your life

For Terri Ronci, renting out her in-demand Toronto condo meant having the financial freedom to seek out a career change.

After years in advertising she wanted to go back to school to pursue other interests and return to her hometown of Montreal.

“I had a really great conversation with my dad who (said), imagine if you could rent that place for more than you’d have to pay out, it might give you that cushion and (be) a retirement nest egg,” she said.

“If you sell it, that money is available now, but in the long term, think about the steady income that this investment will bring in, along with the fact the selling price will go up. It’s the best way to maximize the return on your investment.”

Ronci, 40, decided to rent – and the decision paid off. She was able to cover her mortgage and expenses with the rent she got off her condo, and have enough money leftover to pursue the lifestyle changes she was after.

In Ronci’s case, having a well-situated apartment and trustworthy property managers made renting her condo on the side a lucrative and stress-free process.

But while an income property can be rewarding, would-be landlords need to think about what they’re buying and the kind of return they’ll get for their efforts, said Milton, Ont-based realtor Andrew Roach.

“When I talk to my investment clients, we sit down and we say, what are you willing to invest … and we’re not talking just about money,” said Roach, 38, who owns multiple properties on his own or through side ventures.

“When buying a property people are investing more than just their hard-earned money. They’re also investing their time and energy.”

A property manager and the careful screening of your tenants will go a long way toward safeguarding your free time, but it’s often the finances that can trip people up the most.

““You have to make sure the income being produced, the cash flow, can support the debt, said Brenda Burjaw, director of commercial services at Meridian Credit Union Limited.

Whether you’re renting out one condo to supplement your income or a slate of properties, she adds, the money side is the same.

You have to do your due diligence up front to make sure the property will give you the return you want, you should be clear on your risk tolerance (since that will guide your strategy) and you need to carefully budget to make sure you can cover off the operating cost of running the unit – both in terms of capital needs for big expenses and to service the debt outstanding on your mortgage.

Operating costs are the part of the equation that you can have some level of control over by budgeting for repairs and maintenance, said Burjaw.

“You need to be mindful of always having some sort of a reserve set aside for when you have to re-lease the unit – paint it, replace an appliance, fix a window,” she said.

“Each year a prudent property owner should look and budget what the coming year operating costs are going to look like, and find efficiencies where possible.”

A condo is a good option for anyone who is low risk or doesn’t want to spend much time worrying about their side property because condo fees take care of a lot of the maintenance. If your tenant agrees, you can also automate payments and appointment bookings by signing up with a company like Get Digs, which lets renters pay with their credit cards and make sure landlords get the rent on time.

That will keep you from having to chase tenants for their rent, since legislation brought in in places like Ontario means you’re no longer allowed to ask tenants for post-dated cheques to cover their rent for the year ahead.

Property managers can help ease the burden, for a fee, and so can having a go-to list of people to call in an emergency to replace a window or fix a leaky toilet.

If you choose to outsource that work, you’ll need to factor property management fees into your budget and consider how that will impact your cash flow.

You should also be thinking about whether your tenant will pay the hydro bills and whether you can charge extra for amenities like parking.

When you’re estimating your costs and possible return, it’s also important to be conservative, said Pauline Lierman, director of market research with Urbanation Inc., a firm that tracks the rental condo and new purpose build market in Toronto.

“You have to look at what the balance sheet of the condo is, what the maintenance fees are,” she said.

“Be aware of what the type of unit you have in your building is renting (at), be aware of who else around you may be adding new units going forward.”

But while careful math and planning is needed to make sure a rental side hustle pays off, for landlords like Ronci, the result is worth it.

“If you’re wanting to make a change in your life, an investment like this can give you the break or pause you need to breathe.”

3 months ago